I have to admit that I have a soft spot for anything set in the Philadelphia of my childhood, and Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz‘s recently re-issued collection of poetry Oh Terrible Youth captures that time and place perfectly. Aptowicz, it turns out, is a Philadelphia native, and her poetry speaks not only to the peculiar challenges inherent in coming of age in the City of Brotherly Love in the 1980s, but also to the forces of uncertainty that young people across the country confront during any era as they cross over into the choppy waters of adulthood.
The collection does a wonderful job of blending humor and pathos with a touch of sentimentality. Early on, Aptowicz recounts a number of “worsts” of her childhood: worst games (“Let’s see who can be the quietest” and “Regular Battleship when all your friends have Electronic Battleship” chief among them) and worst Halloween costumes (including “birthday present,” “Santa Claus,” and “homemade Ewok”). Later in the collection, she looks back somewhat wistfully on all that she took for granted in her childhood, as in “Apologies to My Childhood Dog” and my favorite piece, “Estephania,” which distills, among other things, the essence of being “best friends.”
While the poems in Oh Terrible Youth are largely about childhood, they’re also poems that only an adult could write. Throughout the collection, Aptowicz manages to strike a balance between the raw uncertainty of adolescence and the (relative) self-assurance of maturity. We laugh with her as she recalls the kinds of things that kept us all up at night as we muddled through our teenage years, yet we also smile with compassion for the children we were — trying to make sense of the universe, trying to make sense of ourselves, trying to convince everyone that we did, in fact, have it all together when, at the end of the day, we knew for sure that we didn’t.
An excellent collection. Highly recommended for anyone who’s ever been a teen.
-Review by Marc Schuster